The following are my introductory remarks to the Dream Reborn conference, beginning today and running through the weekend in Memphis, Tenn.
Forty years ago today, on April 4, 1968, a sniper assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King had come to Memphis, Tennessee, to aid striking sanitation workers. The preeminent civil rights leader of his time, he was only 39 years old.
Four decades have passed since that fateful day. As of this month, Dr. King has been gone from us longer than he was ever here. As we pass this milestone in history, we gather in Memphis to remind ourselves and the world that a bullet killed the dreamer — but not the dream.
Dr. King had a vision of an America as good as its promise, and a world at peace with itself. That vision lives on in the hearts of hundreds of millions, including two generations of adults and a rising generation of teenagers, all of whom have been born since Dr. King’s passing.
The time has come for us to step forward. We must take full responsibility to advance the cause of justice, opportunity, and peace in a new century.
And yet it must be said that we are stepping onto history’s stage at a frightening time — a time of global warming and global war. A time when "the market" is free and the people are not. A time of mass incarceration of people and mass extinction of species. A time of no rules for the rich and no rights for the poor. A time of increasing profits for the few and decreasing options for the many. A time of buyouts and bailouts for the powerful and convictions and evictions for the powerless.
And yet, inside the United States, the tide has begun to turn.
The GOP juggernaut that carried the nation to the brink of destruction has begun to run out of gas. Ordinary Americans today are longing for a leader, not a cowboy-in-chief. Some are rethinking consumerism, seeking healthier choices for their families, worrying about oil prices and even the climate crisis.
And just three years after George W. Bush’s re-election, the mighty political party that Karl Rove thought would rule America for generations appears to be falling apart at the seams.
Something has shifted profoundly. Unfortunately, all the old political figures, outdated modes of discourse, and stodgy institutions are still with us. But you can feel something exciting beginning to stir — and break loose — underneath.
The future is getting restless. We are on the brink of something promising and new. And for the first time in more than a generation, those of us who value living beings over dead products have a chance to offer real leadership to the country.
Our post-King generations must embrace the example Dr. King set. And we must reimagine it, to meet new challenges.
For example: in his time, Dr. King worked for equal protection and equal opportunity. We, too, must adopt that agenda. But ours is an age of both social crisis and ecological peril. Therefore, we must insist that vulnerable communities get equal protection from racial discrimination — and from the floods, storms, droughts, plagues and fires that global warming is causing. Equal protection today means: no more Katrinas!
Ours is also an age of positive economic transformation: billions of dollars are pouring into the solar, wind, geothermal and other clean industries. This so-called "green economy" will generate thousands of business opportunities and millions of new jobs. We must guarantee equal opportunity in this growing green, clean and renewable economy. We must insist that the coming "green wave" lift all boats. Those low-income communities that were locked out of the pollution-based economy must be locked into the clean and green economy. Our communities — and especially our children — deserve "green-collar jobs, not jails."
Dr. King — and many others — fought, bled, and died to racially integrate a pollution-based economy. Today, America is creating a new, clean, and green economy. From the start, we must design it to have a dignified place for everyone.
Dr. King linked the solutions of civil rights, peace, and economic opportunity. We must link the solutions of social justice, peace, and ecological sanity. Our new dream must uplift the people and the planet, too. This is the calling of our time.
And so today, four decades later, we seek new fuel to meet new challenges. We seek a world society wherein we use clean, alternative energy sources to fuel our machines … healthy, organic, and local food to fuel our bodies … and hope, solidarity, and love to fuel our movements for change.
Because to win over a wounded and frightened nation, our cause itself must become irresistibly beautiful, vital, healing, and sustainable. Success will come when our networks are practical enough to "organize" hundreds of thousands — and soulful enough to "magnetize" tens of millions. So let us dare to imagine: a healthy, joyous, self-confident liberation movement. A movement that celebrates more than it condemns … inspires more than it critiques … and solution-izes more than it problem-atizes.
Imagine a movement for justice with its arms wide open.
In these "difficult days," we have a duty to do more than curse the darkness. We must, ourselves, shine a new light.
That is what Dr. King did. And 40 years later, new generations have come to Memphis, bearing lanterns of our own. Through the new organization, Green For All, I am proud to help sponsor one of the major MLK celebrations in this city today.
Here and now, we boldly, proudly, and loudly declare The Dream … reborn.